K-pop (and all music in general) tends to lionize youth, to the point that when faced with a song titled “We Are Young,” it’s tempting to be just a little bit cautious. Is there anything new to be found in this thematic territory? If not, will this song at least be as fun and catchy as its title promises?

Luckily for us, fun and catchy is an understatement when it comes to describing Tri.be‘s latest release, which is so wholehearted in its sincerity that it’s impossible not to enjoy. Bursting at the seams with everything that characterizes K-pop at its best, “We Are Young” is eerily reminiscent of Twice‘s early work, but subverts expectations just enough to remind us that we are firmly in 2023.

Up until this point, Tri.be have been vocal chameleons, with no sonic signature seeming to unify their discography. “We Are Young” opts for a completely different sound than their past releases—or, indeed, any other fourth-generation group. What makes it doubly intriguing, though, is that the song is also a parade of K-pop tropes, playing off of them with such panache that the song is almost a pastiche… of itself.

In other words, “We Are Young” is very much in on the potential jokes to be made of its over-the-topness. (Isn’t that why we love K-pop so much?) The playfulness begins from the first moment of the track, with a chanted intro of “Y-O-U-N-G” that feels like an instant shot of nostalgia, taking us back to Twice’s “Like Ooh-Ahh” days.

The music video is also gleefully retro, with neon-saturated, Y2K styled outfits immediately establishing the vibrancy of the color palette. The video opens with the group whipping up what has to be the world’s sweetest smoothie ever (Froot Loops, sprinkles, and whipped cream) in a blender with reckless abandon. (Even those with major sweet tooths among us may feel their need for sugar quenched after seeing this concoction.) The scene perfectly fits the accompanying lyrics, as members Soeun and Jia tell us that they are incapable of feeling down. They’re on top of the world, wearing their youth like a cloak of invincibility!

“We Are Young” takes an unexpected turn in the pre-chorus, though. Jinha encourages us to live in the moment, saying “tomorrow’s me will take care of today’s work” in a deeply relatable line. This push for the listener to be carefree—”don’t worry, no no”—does not stay gentle, however.

Songsun follows up with a forceful “let’s run away, don’t interfere” and tells us to “get away now,” with an expression that clearly says she’s done with us debating this. There’s a commanding quality to “We Are Young” that makes it unusual. Tri.be aren’t asking or cajoling us to enjoy the moment with them: they’re running the show here, and we will have fun and enjoy ourselves.

Enter the incredibly catchy chorus, which is the spring ear worm we’ve been waiting for. “We do what we wanna do, because we are young” is the refrain, sandwiched between verses about reclaiming the level of carefreeness we felt as kids. What makes the verses compelling, though, is that Tri.be maintain a fierce sense of independence even as they admit to something fairly vulnerable—wanting to reclaim their youth even as they’re living it. “Leave me alone, I’ll do it myself,” Songsun sings. “Be quiet, I’ve got this.” This undercurrent of defiance offers an intriguing edge to a song in seemingly lighthearted packaging.

Even the rap verse has a surprisingly genuine edge to it, in tandem with the bouncy rhythm and optimism that characterizes the song as a whole. Hyunbin‘s lines are perhaps the best moment of the tracks, as she tells us that she’s not interested in being swayed by trends and just wants to live her life free of “fingers pointed everywhere.” It’s her “A-OK attitude” that makes her “the talk of the town,” she says, and “We Are Young’s” refreshing insistence on self-reliance and following our internal compass is reinforced here.

The bridge to the final chorus is when the full force of the song’s personality shines, with “we can touch the sky” and “the world is mine” popping up between the cheerful chanting refrains. Tri.be just want to be free, and their defiance comes because they—like many of us—have been told that following our hearts is not acceptable on some level. “This moment won’t ever come again,” they remind us.

Ultimately, “We Are Young” is a call for us to grant ourselves a reprieve and live in the moment, at least until tomorrow. The song is delightful, but what makes it unexpectedly poignant is the questions it asks: is it possible to be young and yet feel like your youth is slipping away?

For Tri.be, being young is a state of being: living unshackled by the opinions of others, totally self-reliant. They are firm in not wanting or needing anyone else to open the door to this state of liberation. “We Are Young” offers us that feeling of total joyful abandon, while also seeming to dangle it just a hair beyond our reach.

In a way, this sense of incompleteness underscores the brilliance of the song: it’s impossible for it to be fully realized, because at its core, it’s about reclaiming the freedom of our childhood days. Nostalgia is a slippery emotion because we can never quite have what it is we’re longing for, and “We Are Young” captures that all too well.

As the saying goes, you are both the oldest you’ve ever been and the youngest you ever will be again–which, as Tri.be would tell us, is what makes it even more important to live in the moment! “We Are Young” is brilliant because it embodies this paradox, and offers us a certifiable bop in the process.

(Video and Lyrics via: TR Entertainment.)